Trump Misses the Real Pennsylvania Voting Problem


President Trump is again missing the point on election integrity. “Here we go again! Rigged Election!” he wrote Tuesday. Mr. Trump was referring to a claim on the internet that Pennsylvania has 250,000 mail ballots that lack verification of the voter’s identity. Not really, officials say. Pennsylvania does have a voting issue, but it’s not the one Mr. Trump’s cites.

Coincidentally also Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether mail ballots are valid if voters neglected to date them by hand. In 2020 there were about 8,300 undated ballots in Philadelphia alone, the Associated Press says. For now, the Justices ordered that such ballots be kept separate, which is the right call. But things could get ugly if Republican

Mehmet Oz

wins the Senate race by a whisker over Democrat

John Fetterman.

Registered Democrats account for about 70% of the mail ballots returned in Pennsylvania so far. That means the undated ones will probably break for Mr. Fetterman, who could sue to demand that they be tallied. This might reach the U.S. Supreme Court, with the loser crying that he was cheated.

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Mr. Trump’s claim about those 250,000 mail ballots is grounded in a letter that a group of state lawmakers recently sent to the Pennsylvania State Department, raising concerns about how mail votes are tracked and verified. Yet local election authorities say nothing is amiss. “It is business as usual and the legislators who wrote the letter totally misunderstood how the system works,” says

Seth Bluestein,

a Republican city commissioner in Philadelphia.

When requesting a mail ballot in Pennsylvania, a voter is asked to provide a state ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. Sometimes this information can’t be verified, maybe because the voter simply misread a digit when copying it down. Even if verification fails, the law says registered voters should be sent a mail ballot, with a notice saying it won’t count unless ID is provided.

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When unverified ballots come back, election workers set them aside. Chester County says it “prevents the ballot from being counted by blocking the return bar code.” When a worker goes to “check in” the arriving vote, it’s flagged as needing ID. A letter circulated by the State Department adds that Pennsylvania’s voter registration system “has a hard-stop function that will not allow a ballot from a voter without verified identification to be counted.”

According to the State Department, there are “less than 7,600 ballot applications statewide that still require voter identity verification.” Its letter suggests other figures are misreadings of the database. Chester County expects fewer than 300 unverified ballots out of 80,000 requested.

It’s classic Trump. Someone questions an obscure corner of the voting system. Mr. Trump shouts that it’s rigged, without bothering to understand the claim first. Is there any evidence that counties aren’t checking ID? “I have no reason to suspect at this juncture that they’re not doing it,” says state Rep.

Frank Ryan,

the lead signatory on the letter of concern. “We have not seen any nefarious behavior.”

What Mr. Ryan wants is better internal controls so the verification is visible. “To earn trust you have to build trust,” he says. Fair enough. There’s also a case for less reliance on mail ballots. At the polls, it’s verify first, vote second. Mail ballots invert that: Cast a vote today, hope it checks out tomorrow. Even so, it’s irresponsible for Mr. Trump to yell fraud the instant he sees something he doesn’t understand.

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If Pennsylvania has a meltdown, a more likely culprit is undated ballots. The law instructs mail voters to “fill out, date and sign.” After the 2020 election, the state Supreme Court said dates were required. But the swing Justice provided a good-for-one-pandemic exception. As a result, a disputed state legislative seat flipped from a Republican to a Democrat.

After local elections in 2021, the question hit the federal judiciary. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals said a missing date was akin to a paperwork error, so throwing out such ballots would violate the Civil Rights Act. As a result, a disputed judicial seat flipped from a Republican to a Democrat.

In June the Supreme Court declined to block that ruling, over three conservative dissents. The Third Circuit’s view “is very likely wrong,” Justice

Samuel Alito

wrote. “If left undisturbed, it could well affect the outcome of the fall elections, and it would be far better for us to address that interpretation before, rather than after, it has that effect.” Prescient again, Sam.

Now the state Supreme Court has split 3-3. That tie was possible because Chief Justice

Max Baer,

a Democrat, died recently. What a mess. Voting should run by settled rules. For two straight elections, Pennsylvania has put itself in the position of having its winners potentially decided by judges after the fact. If Democrats want to shore up democracy, as they keep saying, they can help stop this from happening a third time.

Video Flashback: Speaking on CNN on Oct. 3, 2022, Georgia Gubernatorial Nominee Stacey Abrams claims she ‘never denied the outcome’ of her 2018 defeat to Brian Kemp. Footage from 2018 tells a different story. Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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